Kid X’s grandmother shocked him with a car battery if he didn’t pull in enough cash to support her opium habit. She had no choice – she had no wheels, she was old, she was decrepit, she was addicted. At least that’s how she would put it. But Kid X did have a choice – beg, be thrown out, or find a better life.

This is NOT Kid X. But this is how is story started - as street beggar in Myanmar. You can see that his life depends upon the day's take
This is NOT Kid X.    But this is how his story started – as a street beggar in Myanmar.  You can see from the tension in this boy’s face that much depends upon the day’s take

Kid X had heard about Kru Nam from a VCDF worker in “The City of the Golden Triangle”, the Myanmarese border town across from Mae Sae, Thailand. Another VCDF worker in Mae Sae, he heard, was feeding kids under the bridge that connected the two countries. He would have to swim the brackish river to get there, but that was hardly a hardship in his circumstances.

Augusto_the boys
photo by Augusto Rosales ©2013

You might find him in the picture above if you knew what you’re looking for. He has deficits, but you can’t see them in a photograph. Photography has its limits. In fact, you can’t tell by meeting him either – he’s a born leader with an incredible facility for math and language. I do have a photograph of him, but i promised at the beginning at the project that I would identify no child with their misfortune.

You can only tell by his desperation to connect, to find humanity, to matter to someone. Which is exactly what he did, thanks to Kru Nam and her amazing orphanage in Northern Thailand (you can read more about that in a previous post). He mattered so much that I needed to tell his story. And as editing on our documentary is a long, drawn out process, I decided to keep his story alive this way.

Boy, Thailand
A child in the library (not Kid X!) finds time to be, to relax and to wonder about what knowledge lies in the books inside.

Today he’s being rehabilitated through his connection with more than 100 brothers and sisters, and through relationships with adult staff members and volunteers he can trust. The process of healing is not an instant one – not the kind of “fix it” approach we seek in the West. Not the bi-weekly sessions aimed at coming to terms quickly.  Kru Nam’s approach allows for the time it takes to undo the damage of the past. There’s time to play, to learn, to find solitude and connection. Time to trust and, most of all, to belong.

Kids Playing soccer
There’s plenty of structured and unstructured time for the kids at the orphanage

The young man in the photo below is not Kid X either. This was Kid Y, or he used to be. Now he’s Adult Y, one of the dedicated staff members who work with Kid X. And he has an incredible and inspiring story of his own, which he related to us at the home.

This is David

David lived in a garbage dump in Myanmar until he decided at age 8, (after several aborted attempts to make it on his own) that he “did not want his children to live like this.” When he was eight, mind you.

Garbage dump Myanmar
Sadly, this garbage dump in Myanmar is the best chance for survival for the people who live there now.

Now, at 18, his healing has begun by healing others, alongside Kru Nam, her husband Pot, and their team.

And he is only one person, as Kid X is only one, as Kru Nam is only one.

As I am.

And you.

Augusto_VCDF balloon
photo courtesy of Augusto Rosales ©2013

Special thanks to Augusto Rosales, dear friend, companion on the Thailand trip and august photographer :)

All photos  protected by copyright







Not For Sale

I wear a ring on my finger that says Not For Sale. Actually, it  falls off in the shower and I have to keep reminding myself to put it back on. So my favourite strategy is to put it on my keyboard, where I found it a moment ago.

Not For Sale Ring

All of which reminds me of our trip to Thailand in May, where we worked in a Thai orphanage and filmed the people who run it. This video, embedded from Not For Sale’s current campaign, is a wonderful introduction to the amazing kids, staff and organizers who we worked with:

To call it  a memorable trip is a cliche, perhaps a masterpiece of understatement. The chief organizer, Kru Nam, founded the orphanage with children she rescued out of the brothels 0f Chiang Mai. She also made my ring, all of which is a story well worth telling.

Kru Nam with my wife Annette and two of my photography students. NB: These girls did not come to the home via sex trafficking

Kru Nam is an artist. She had only just graduated with a degree in fine arts when she started working with street kids. She wasn’t prepared for the disturbing content of the art they made, and yet her response was extraordinary. She began walking kids out of brothels. After getting 25 kids out, brothel owners threatened her life. She moved north of Chiang Rai, and began building an extraordinary village and an organization called The Volunteers For Children’s Development. She all but left art. But lately her work has been underwritten by the Not For Sale Foundation, which has given her a little time to get back to her jewellery practice. The ring pulls all parts of the story together.

Belonging is the idea that most touched me during my stay. Rather than “fix” kids, Kru Nam’s genius is to let them be, surrounded by 125 brothers and sisters.

We expected to find wounded kids. We expected trust issues, in particular. And we did see kids like that. But we were entirely unprepared for the vast majority who showered us with affection and honour. I miss them to no end today. These are the kids we met, taught, loved and learned from. And if you feel the urge to help them, check out Not For Sale’s current campaign. I gave today because of the lessons I learned watching Kru Nam at work. Here it is: You can’t change the world; but everyone can contribute to picking up some of the pieces.

Lorbea, Aka, Brothers
Three of my favourite little rascals, proudly showing off in front of the library.

If you’d like to learn more, check out “Not For Sale”, David Batstone’s exciting book that launched a global movement.